Gerald's Game (Stephen King)
Gerald's Game features a simple, effective, but ultimately drawn out premise. Jessie Burlingame is handcuffed to her bed when her husband dies of a heart attack. The rest of the novel features flashbacks to traumatic events in Jessie's life, her inner turmoil as hope begins to dwindle, and encounters with a strange bogeyman that may or may not be real. The overall premise is fine, it is somewhat like Cujo in that it presents an effective "What would you do if.." scenario. It truly becomes a frightening scenario as the hours tick by and the physical toll is relayed to the reader, not to mention the emotional turmoil and fear. Multiple efforts to escape add to the desperation of the situation and add a certain element of mystery and suspense. To me, it was a guessing game as to what method of escape would be attempted next, and how the author would avoid a deus ex machina (surprisingly enough, he does.)
Unfortunately, these great moments that draw the reader in so effectively are tarnished by the pointless flashbacks so prevalent in the beginning and middle of the novel. The major flashback consists of Jessie being sexually abused by her dad during a solar eclipse. Other flashbacks feature insights into her life thus far, and less significant events. These flashbacks don't add anything to the central premise, though one is used (in a rather contrived fashion) to give Jessie an idea for escape.
Further padding the story, a 70 page epilogue effectively ruins one of the major themes of internal conflict in the novel, while adding nothing in terms of closure. Jessie is writing a letter to her friend Ruth, one of the voices that play a prominent part in the internal dialogue in the novel. She reveals that a necrophiliac serial murderer was the cause of the apparitions that haunted her throughout her ordeal. Where once it seemed that Jessie's visions were simply a trick of the shadows and her imagination, it is revealed that there was an actual serial killer watching her struggle through the nights. Making the fears and manifestations of her mind turn out to be a real thing made the internal conflict less significant. Not to mention that this little revelation comes out of nowhere, with precious little evidence through the course of the novel to suggest that her tormentor might actually be real.
Overall there is just too much padding here. The basic premise is great, but the other stuff, serial killers and raping fathers, don't add anything to the plot and just make the book two hundred pages longer than it realistically needed to be.
The only character explored at length here is Jessie, and she certainly has an interesting persona. She is at times pathetic, strong, witty, and resilient. The most endearing aspect of her character is probably the method by which she manages to free herself, without any aid from outside forces, and with a fair share of struggle and pain. She also has a cadre of voices in her head; I'm not sure what to make of these voices, in some ways they are essential to the story, but they also come across as awkward in more than a few scenes.
Overall, their necessity (as foils to Jessie's character, if nothing else, but also to better simulate her thought process) outweighs the sometimes stilted and bizarre conversations. The only aspect of her character I didn't like is her initial wallowing in self pity. Not just for her incredibly unfortunate situation, that would have been understandable. Instead, she laments basically everything that has ever happened to her, partially during the aforementioned flashbacks, but also during regular scenes. Her character does "grow" out of this by the three quarter mark of the story, and it ends up aiding her overall development.
Other characters are adequate in their limited roles, but this is exclusively Jessie's story. Jessie isn't a particularly memorable character, but she functions very well as an "everywoman" type character, and does a great job of making the plot seem more grounded in reality.
The prose here is effective but unimaginative Stephen King. He maintains his trademark pop culture references, and his knack for writing intimidating sequences, but it isn't really anything special here. There is a bit too much repetition in situations and in thoughts, and also some pop culture references that feel out of place or forced. The description of the one room in which the majority of the action takes place is very good, but the description of the rest of the house is glazed over a bit.
Gore also plays a big part in this novel. From the physical toll on Jessie as she attempts to escape using more and more desperate means, to a dog feasting on her dead husband, to the vivid descriptions of the serial killer's crimes, gore is prominent in just about every chapter of the book. It is described very effectively, but some of it loses its effectiveness due to a loss of interest/importance to the plot (serial killer stuff) or an unfortunate touch of disbelief (Jessie somehow surviving her horrific injuries without immediate medical attention.) Dialogue between the various characters in Jessie's head is well handled for the most part, and dialogue between the other, real characters is adequate. Overall, the prose here is good, but not overly so.
Gerald's Game would've made a great short story. At over 425 pages, however, it feels more than a bit padded, and the great initial premise and effective writing and characterization cannot overcome the inflated plot.